Today after a room service breakfast, we go on a ship’s tour to the monasteries of Meteora in central Greece. We leave Velos by bus at 9:00AM. One nice thing is that Seabourn does not fill up the buses. They took two buses, each half full or less so we have room to spread out and everybody could have a window seat.
Leaving the port of Velos, we drive NW across the agricultural plain of Thessaly. At one time, millions of years ago, this plain was a vast, deep lake. After two plus hours, we reach the town of Kalambaka, built at the base of the Meteora Rocks or pinnacles and stopped for the obligatory coffee and potty break.
The word Meteora means, literally, “hovering in the air.” These rocks are an impressive sight, giant rocks in bizarre shapes jutting into the air. However, as amazing a marvel of nature as these giant rocks are, the buildings on the tops of the rocks are a marvel of man,making Meteora on of the most spectacular places to visit in Greece. After our coffee, we continue our drive up to the “monasteries in the air” of Meteora. The road is extremely crooked and the bus has trouble at times with the curves.Ascertic hermits first inhabited the rock crevices in this area as early as the 9th century. As the Byzantine power begin to wan and religious persecution increased from invading foreigners, monks retreated to the inaccessible rocks. The monasteries were built in the 14th century by these monks searching for a place where they could be isolated from the rest of the world. This was once a community with 24 monasteries, but today only five of them are active and those only marginally. Until 1920, most of the Meteora monasteries could only be reached by sitting in a basket and being hauled up by rope.
We visit Saint Stephen’s Holy Monastery Holy Meteora, which now serves as a nunnery, rather than a monastery. The vies are outstanding and the small gardens are just beginning to show some color.The chapel is very small and dark, but the painted walls are very detailed. This one is reached by a bridge with very few steps to climb and is overrun with tourists. It is very crowded and there was no evident crowd control plan. That, coupled with a large contingents of pushy Germans, Eastern Europeans and Russians, make the visit something of a trial rather than a pleasure.
Our next stop is the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteron (The Transfiguration of Our Saviour). This monastery is in a spectacular location and is accessed by 300 steps (one way), a tunnel and a bridge. Fortunately, most of the steps are in good condition and provide handrails so we make the ascent and descent with no trouble. Prior to the construction of the tunnel in the 1920s, one climbed a free hanging ladder some 60 feet up the cliff side to access the bottom of the stairs. We are told that there was a net below the ladder to catch those who fell! Once, when asked how often the net was replaced, the abbot of the monastery said it was replaced every time it failed!
Like European cathedrals, if you have seen two Eastern Orthodox Churches, you have seen them all; at least from the inside. However, the views from the ramparts, coupled with the historic displays make this a memorable day. We peak into the ossuary where the skulls and bones of hundreds of monks are sitting on shelves. We visit the refectory where the monks prayedand the 15th century kitchen, complete with all its pots, cauldrons and implements.There is a carpenter shop with 15th century toolsand a storehouse complete with wine casks dated 1478.We even see the rope basket used for access prior to the construction of the stairs and tunnel.We spend something over an hour here and then return to town for a heavy, late, tasty Greek lunch. The two-hour ride back to the ship ended at 5:40PM where we were met by the ship’s staff with champagne, salmon, cold towels, a welcome back banner and a band playing “When the Saints Coming Marching In.” The ship sails at 6:00PM with us sitting on the deck in the hot tub. The water is nice and hot and feels go on our sore feet and again we have a very pretty sailaway. It is the Gala Farewell tonight, but we skip that party and go to “2” early for the tasting dinner a 7:15PM. We are still sailing in a beautiful bay like area and the sun is slipping away. The colors of the sky, water and land are just beautiful. We have the outside dinning area of “2” and this beautiful sunset to ourselves! The meal is interesting, but we are too tired and full from lunch to do it justice. L Pus, the service is going slow so we leave before the desert course.
A few minutes after we get back to the room, Oliver, one of the waiters we really like, shows up with our dessert and hot tea. They were afraid we were upset because we left early and are trying to please us. I must say, when things go wrong on this ship, the staff really tries to correct the problem.